A couple of weeks ago, an article written by two University of Toronto professors of political science was published in the Globe and Mail. The two professors explained the reasoning behind their decision to ban all electronic devices from their classrooms, arguing that doing so results in a distraction-free environment that is more conducive to learning.
In response, we asked students to weigh in on whether removing technology from classrooms is truly correlated with a more meaningful learning experience.
Taking notes on a laptop is actually much more effective than taking notes on paper. Admittedly, students retain more if they write by hand because it contributes to muscle memory. However, in lecture settings, students are always trying to remember what the professor is saying as they write. In my opinion, handwriting becomes difficult because both processes overload your senses to the point where you can’t remember what the professor is saying halfway as you write it out. With a laptop, you can focus your mind on the lecture, and directly copy it with effortless keystrokes.
– Remi Hossain, third-year Political Science and Criminology student
Accessibility is briefly addressed in Balot and Orwin’s piece, but only as an afterthought. While perusing the article’s online comment section on the Globe and Mail’s website, I found dozens of hateful comments supporting the authors’ neglect of some students’ needs. This was truly disheartening. Balot and Orwin’s attitude reflects society’s problem of questioning the legitimacy of accessibility needs. If these professors are interested in students getting the best learning experience from class, why is this limited to able-bodied/able-minded individuals? Isolating students with unique needs is not productive, and they are only reinforcing the hesitancy towards asking for help that these students experience.
– Elspeth Arbow, fourth-year Cinema Studies and Buddhism, Psychology, and Mental Health Studies student
I believe that this electronics ban policy is motivated by the same frustration that causes just about every professor I know to be bothered by laptops in class. The prof spends time planning and preparing lectures, yet the students who attend class are likely browsing Netflix, Facebook, or Twitter instead of listening and absorbing the material.
That said, it is unreasonable and outdated to ban the use of all technology in a learning environment. The considerate and tactful thing that should have been done in this situation was to make a negotiation. Instead of having TAs patrol the aisles for students sneaking a look at their phones, why not simply allow laptops, with TAs monitoring screens to avoid the unproductive use of these devices? Since this may be more difficult to do in a tutorial environment, an electronics ban may be limited to tutorials, because this a discussion-based environment in which little rigorous note-taking is required. It is hard to imagine how two political science professors did not at least make the effort to negotiate a policy that is fair, and accommodates both students and professors.
– Marina Bozic, second-year Political Science student
When cellphones, laptops, and tablets are framed as “electronic noise,” technology can be easily construed as a barrier to communication. A technology ban is most conducive within smaller, seminar-style classes in which discussion is central to how the course is taught. Such classes require a two-way form of communication, in which students are active contributors to the lesson, and not just passive recipients of information. This active style of learning enables students to better synthesize, record, and retain information. In this setting, the absence of technology bolsters students’ engagement with professors, peers, and material by preventing them from hiding behind a screen.
– Zara Narain, second-year Ethics, Society, and Law student
In my experience, technology bans allow for a greater understanding and engagement with the material. However, an important thing to note is that these bans will not work in all classroom settings; smaller seminar courses and lectures that focus on the rigorous study of texts and complex analyses benefit most from this policy. Moreover, when professors no longer have laptops and phones to compete with, it means that they need to perform at a much higher level, and must deliver quality lectures that can catch a student’s attention for two to three hours at a time. Professors who embrace this new teaching policy should be ready to rise to these higher expectations.
– Ramsha Naveed, second-year Political Science and Philosophy student
The move to ban all electronics from the classroom is the failure of these professors to understand and adapt to an ever-changing learning environment. This almost guarantees that students who aren’t familiar with this style of learning will do worse than those who are. Rather than embrace new ways of teaching a perpetually connected generation, they’ve hunkered down to the past, and insist upon forcing students who have otherwise had the freedom to learn as they choose to adapt to a form of learning that may not be familiar to or effective for them.
– Ross Johnston, second-year Political Science student